January…how quickly it is fleeing from us!
January is considered a month of beginnings.
I recall when I was younger that I did not really appreciate this month of the year very much at all. The beauty and excitement of the holidays from late November to the end of December were passed. The weather often interfered with plans or opportunities. Days were shorter and nights were longer. Many days in the Midwest were gray and cloudy and I was eager to move into February and the fun of Valentine’s Day and President’s Day.
My view of January has gone through a metamorphosis over time. I think it happened gradually when our children were still at home and we would unexpectedly enjoy an unexpected “snow day.” Since it wasn’t a planned day off from school, it felt like a gift of freedom, a day for staying in pajamas, sipping hot chocolate, and lighting a fire in the fireplace while the snow piled up in drifts outside and the biting cold winds swirled around the corners of the house.
As time passed I developed a rich regard for January and began to look forward to it before the holidays had even passed. I anticipated the quieter days, the more open calendar, and greater opportunities for reflection, solitude, and silence. It was easier to linger over coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and value the release from the crush of busyness. It was easier to leave the Christmas tree up a bit longer to enjoy the warmth of its lights in unhurried hours at the end of the day.
January is a time when we can often more easily let go of the human expectations upon us as we recuperate from the holidays and reflect on the year ahead and plan for what we would like to see happen perhaps. In this part of the Midwest it feels as if the Lord arranges creation to step off the merry-go-round that keeps us exhausted and out of touch with ourselves. Temperatures, precipitation, and driving conditions offer excuses to opt out of many things we would readily accept in October, May, or July.
We live in a world that tends to be noisy and full of distractions. We adapt and endure them. Sometimes they even become addictive so that being quiet or unplugged causes us to feel uneasy, but if we allow ourselves to stay with that discomfort for just a few minutes longer we may well discover the peaceful calm that sweeps over us and breaks up the noise on the inside of us.
That noise on the inside uses energy at an incredible pace. It adds stress that is frequently unrelenting as we consider the demands of others as well as ourselves. The noise on the inside keeps us from falling asleep, staying asleep, and resting deeply. The noise ties our digestive system in knots and causes us to be impatient and irritable.
January may be very different in places in the world where the weather does not impact life a great deal. For those of us where it does, I think it is God’s sweet gift to us. He knows we need to have more open space in our days, weeks, and months. He knows we need to turn down the volume of the noise. He knows what we need.
The Lord also knows of the many things we neglect in our spiritual lives; the disciplines of solitude and silence are likely at the top of the list. But these are absolutely necessary and especially so for those of us who are immersed in ministry of any kind, caught up in a performance-oriented life, or hooked on needing control.
No matter how tired we may be, we often resist solitude and silence. Sometimes it may be frightening to consider because we are no longer sure of who we are when we are unplugged. January nudges us to take a risk to discover the gifts of these disciplines.
“When we make room for silence we make room for ourselves…Silence invites the unknown, the untamed, the wild, the unfathomable – that which rarely has a chance to surface within us.” Gunilla Norris